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Anguished and Anxious: Afghan Exiles Living in Germany

For exiled Afghans in Germany, the recent turn of events in Kabul leaves little to celebrate. While diplomats draft a new government, they are reminded of how often history repeats itself, and how futile intervention is.

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Afghan exiles feel they have a duty to help rebuild the country for future generations.

Over the last week, the situation in Afghanistan has changed dramatically. The opposition Northern Alliance has gained significant ground, marching further south into the Taliban territory and toppling Kabul. Eight Western aid workers held by the Taliban since August have been released, and there's even been some talk of allowing peace keeping troops into the region to maintain order.

The reactions to these latest developments are mixed. They span from cheers of joy and triumph to tears, worry and even fear. The United Nations has endorsed a resolution to form a broad-based multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan, but many exiled Afghans can only shake their head over what they see as a futile effort. After more than 20 years of war, occupation and more war, Afghans living abroad are hesitant to embrace current diplomatic successes.

For many of the Afghans in Germany, the retreat of the Taliban after five years of terror is viewed with suspicion. "What will happen next," they question as they watch the evening news and see the pictures of jubilant countrymen and women. The Taliban may be gone, but who will come to power next, they ask themselves. The recent Afghan history leaves little room for optimism.

History repeats itself

Panzerangriff der Nord-Allianz

Members of the Afghan Northern Alliance elite corps call "Zarbati" fill with gasoline tank in Charikar, 30 km from the Afghan capital Kabul, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2001. Zarbati are positioning themselves for a possible imminent advance on frontline positions. US bombardments continued Saturday morning, part of the U.S. attempt to help the northern alliance advance toward the capital and other key areas. (AP Photo/Marco Di Lauro)

In 1979 the Soviet Union moved in to occupy Afghanistan. Its soldiers fought a long and bitter war to maintain control in the region, but finally withdrew in 1989 in defeat. The years of fighting after that took an enormous human and economic toll, and the country was split up into rival fractions.

In 1992 the Mujahadin, or "Islamic warriors" set up a government in Kabul but were forced to spend the next several years battling to maintain its existence. In 1996 the Pashtun Islamic fundamentalists, or Taliban, began taking control of major portions of the country, spreading their fundamental ideology. By 1999 the Taliban controlled 85-95 percent of Afghanistan but was generally not recognized by the international community.

At every change of power, waves of Afghans left their country to come to Germany. There are currently some 66,000 living in Germany. In Hamburg one in every three immigrants from Asia is Afghan. They come from all different ethnic groups and all ideologies, but the one thing they seem to have in common is the concern for the future of Afghanistan.

When they hear the stories of suffering, of hunger, of human rights violations, they are both anguished and anxious. They yearn to help their homeland, but know there is little they can do but wait.

The Taliban may be gone, but there's no guarantee that the situation will improve. The West may applaud the Northern Alliance now, but many exiled Afghans remember all too clearly the violence the Mujahadin wrecked while in power. Human rights abuses, religious intolerance, discrimination against women also occur in the Northern Alliance, western Afghans say.

Installing a new multi-ethnic government may make obvious sense for the international community, but for Afghans living abroad and with the memory of past wars, they'll only acknowledge the new government when they can return to a homeland that recognizes human rights and democracy.